My wife and I have talked about doing a hot air balloon ride for years. I’m not the adventure-seeking type and am not a big fan of heights, but she is. I will never be jumping out of airplanes with her, but this felt like something I could handle. We also knew we wanted to try to see another solar eclipse after our last incredible experience in 2017. So when I noticed that there was a solar eclipse crossing Albuquerque this year, the same weekend they were holding their annual Balloon Fiesta (the largest in the world!), I knew we had to be there!
While attending the fiesta and seeing the eclipse would be incredible, we also decided to take advantage of the opportunity to book a ride. Only one company is allowed to offer rides during the fiesta, so we booked our flight for the Sunday morning “mass ascension,” when over 500 balloons all take off simultaneously. The entire weekend turned into an absolutely incredible experience, and it’s one none of us will ever forget. Reflecting on the trip, I realize how the lessons learned from this experience also apply to your finances. Here are a few of those lessons.
Focus On What You Can Control - A hot air balloon ride is the epitome of giving up control. While the pilot can control the vertical direction by how much heat he fires into the balloon, there is no directional steering. The balloon will fly in whichever direction the wind is blowing.
This is the reason Albuquerque is so popular for hot-air ballooning. There is something called the “Albuquerque Box,” a weather phenomenon where the low-level winds are out of the north, but at higher levels, the winds can shift southerly. This allows balloon pilots to start out flying south, then increase the altitude to return to the north and land in the same spot they started!
Balloon pilots know that they are at the mercy of the winds, so they need to focus on what they can control: their altitude. Just as these pilots can’t control the winds, you can’t control what happens in the investment markets. Everyone wants to know where the markets will go next, but they are just as unpredictable as the wind. Rather than predicting what will happen next, it’s much better to focus on what you can control, like keeping your savings rate high, keeping your portfolio well diversified, and minimizing your taxes and fees.
Have a Plan But Be Flexible - Every morning during the fiesta, the pilots would gather together early in the morning to review the day’s weather report. They’d have to cancel that morning’s launch if the wind is too strong. We knew there was a risk we might not get to fly, and unfortunately, Sunday morning turned out to be the windiest day of our trip. Luckily, we had included an extra day in our trip so we could rebook our flight for the following morning. We didn’t get to fly during the mass ascension, but that didn’t diminish the experience.
Our pilot had a flight plan that included following the box and trying to land back where we started. Unfortunately, the wind took us slightly to the east, so we couldn’t quite get back to the takeoff spot when we tried to come in for a landing. The pilot adjusted and found a parking lot where we could land instead.
We prepare financial plans for our clients but always describe them as a compass, not a GPS. They don’t illustrate a fixed financial path for you but rather a general guide into the future. We know that many things will change, and your plan needs to be adjusted. You need your plan to be flexible to stay on the right track while making those adjustments.
Have a Contingency Plan - Our flight team included a chase vehicle that would follow the balloon on the ground. If we veered off course, they would be there for us wherever we needed to land. When we missed our original spot and ended up in a parking lot, they were there waiting for us when we landed.
You should also have a contingency in place in your financial life. Keep a cash reserve to cover unexpected expenses and minimize the risk of selling assets in your portfolio during a down period in the markets. Make sure you have appropriate insurance coverage in place. This could include life insurance, disability insurance, long-term care insurance, and property/casualty insurance.
It’s Not the Destination; It’s the Journey - Our total time in the air was only around 45 minutes. We landed just a few blocks from where we took off. This experience was not about getting from one place to the next, so it was easy to savor every moment of the journey.
We help our clients develop financial plans that will last the rest of their lives. We plan for a retirement date that could be many years in the future. We set savings and spending targets and develop plans for hitting those goals. While it’s important to have a plan and to keep moving in the right direction, having a plan in place should free your mind to enjoy the moment. The best thing we can provide a client is the peace of mind to stop worrying about the distant future so they can enjoy the present.
On that hot air balloon, we were a couple thousand feet in the air in a calm silence. There was no engine humming in the background. The sun was rising over the mountains in the distance. We could see for miles in every direction. I can assure you that I did not think about work or my financial goals while I was there. I was enjoying the smile on my son’s face as he marveled at the world from above. Always remember that life is a journey; be sure to enjoy it while you can!
If you ever have the opportunity to attend the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, I highly recommend it, and Rainbow Ryders provided a fantastic experience for our balloon ride.
-Chris Benson, CPA, PFS
The views expressed represent the opinions of L.K. Benson & Company and are subject to change. These views are not intended as a forecast, a guarantee of future results, investment recommendation, or an offer to buy or sell any securities. The information provided is of a general nature and should not be construed as investment advice or to provide any investment, tax, financial or legal advice or service to any person. Please see Additional Disclosures more information.